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TEXT: Ephesians 4:4-6
SUBJECT: Ephesians #8: What We Have in Common
If you talk to couples on the brink of divorce, you find some of them are angry and others are not. We're breaking up, they tell you, because 'I caught her with another man', because 'He beats me' or because 'For twenty years we've done nothing but fight'. In the words of T.S. Eliot, their marriage ends 'with a bang'.
Others end with a 'whimper'. The man's voice is not loud and the woman's words are not harsh. Subdued and tired is what they are; and resigned. If you ask them why they're filing for divorce, they say things like, 'We've grown apart', 'We have separate lives' or 'Once the kids moved out, we've got nothing to keep us together'.
Churches are a lot like couples. Some explode and others dissolve. In a couple of weeks, we'll see how to keep a church from going off like a grenade, and how to put it back together if it does. But today, we'll look at the other kind of break-up. It's caused, not by one big thing, but by a thousand small things. A man once told me this was the best church he and his family had ever been to, but they were leaving because I'm overweight. A woman called me one night about the church. After talking for five or ten minutes, she wrapped it up this way,
"I need to ask you one thing".
"Do you have drums?"
"Okay, see you Sunday".
It seems incredible to me that people would come to church because we don't have drums or leave the church because the pastor weighs too much. But they do. And for reasons no better than these-and some worse.
I don't know what has happened to these families, but unless God has slapped some sense into them, I suspect they're still buzzing around churches, like bees around flowers-landing briefly to take what they want, and then off they go to do it again, again, and again.
I am not qualified to judge their motives, but, going by their actions, I do not believe they are endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and the reason they're not doing it is because their priorities are wrong. To them, having 'no drums' is more important than having One God, and having 'a thin pastor' means more than having One Faith.
I am neutral about drums, and I'd sure like to lose a pound or two, but to allow these things-and things like them-to make or break our fellowship is folly!
Churches must not be united around secondary issues like music style, open or closed communion, the age of the earth or the time of the Rapture. What must unite us are the things that matter most. By remembering and focusing on these things-and not the chaff ever blowing in the wind-we will enjoy the harmony and the stability God wants us to have.
What's say we don't explode and don't dissolve either. What's say we stay together and grow together and learn what it means to be the Body of Christ? We won't do these things as long as we're fretting about silly things like Bible translations or personal dignity. But we will do them if we remember what we all share, and all by Grace.
In vv.1-3, Paul tells us to be at pains to keep the church unified. This won't be easy because it takes personal sacrifice for the good of others. If we're going to have peace and quiet, I have to be humble and gentle, patient, and quick to forgive, even if offended more than once. And not only do I have to do these things, but you do too. It's a team effort; Paul later says-Every joint (in the body) has got to supply its part, and every part has to do its share. We're in this together, and in the words of Ben Franklin-
We will either hang together, or we will hang separately.
Underneath these hard commands, there is an assumption on Paul's part. He assumes the church is united-not 'ought to be', but 'is'. Even allowing for the disagreements and personal spats that were in Ephesus and every other church.
Is he right? Is the church really united? Or is Paul playing make-believe? He isn't pretending at all; the church then-and now-is united. He tells us why in vv.4-6.
Most scholars say Paul did not coin these beautiful words, but rather, borrowed them from a hymn sung in the Early Church. It seems every Sunday, the people of God would get together, and sing-
One God and Father of All.
To our ears, this sounds something like a New Age thing, a chant borrowed from Hinduism or Buddhism, in which everything blends into everything else-men and monkeys, plants and pelicans, stars and starfish absorbed by a Cosmic Goo.
It is easy to laugh at this nonsense and dismiss the people who believe it, but we shouldn't do that. The New Age Movement is growing fast because it promises to meet the real, God-given need people feel for wholeness and oneness with the universe. The only problem with it, of course, is that it cannot keep its promise.
But God can! We ought to tell people He agrees with them-the world is a mess, racism is real, sexism is real, people are being oppressed, rain forests are being cut down, animals are becoming extinct. And-not only does He agree with them, but He has done something about it. He raised His Son from the dead as the first member of the New Humanity, and when His brothers and sisters are raised with Him, the curse will be removed, and-
The desert shall blossom as the rose.
There is a New World Coming, and it is a whole and harmonious world, but it is not achieved by chanting, Om, Om, Om, but by something far better-
Jesus is Lord.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to Church Unity, and save Cosmic Unity for another sermon (though they're closely related).
The first thing Paul says about the Church is it is-
Most Christians say the Body of Christ is the Universal Church consisting of all Christians living, dead, and not yet born. If you asked them, 'Is Grace Baptist Church' the Body of Christ, they would say it isn't.
A few hard liners say the Body of Christ is the local church only, and not the universal invisible church, which they say, doesn't exist. If you asked them, 'Is Grace Baptist Church' the Body of Christ, they would say it is.
I believe both sides are right and wrong. Of course, every person united to Christ by faith is a member of His Body. And, His Body becomes visible and usable in the world as every Christian joins himself to a local church. Therefore, though Christ's Body is Timeless and Universal, here and now, this is it.
If you remembered that every person in this church is part of the same Body you're a part of, you would treat them well. When the index finger of my left hand hits the wrong key on my computer, I don't take a hammer to it because that would hurt not only the offending finger, but my whole body. When you hurt or ignore others in the Body, you're hurting not only them, but yourself, everyone else in the Body, and Christ most of all, because the Church is His Body.
The second thing we have in common is-
This is the Holy Spirit, whom we all have. This, too, makes mistreating others hard to do because, remember what they are: vessels of the Holy Spirit. What would you think of a man who scrawled graffiti on the Temple of God in Jerusalem. He would be a vandal, of course, like the man who marks up our bridges and schools and supermarkets.
But is that all he is? Is his vandalism no worse than theirs? Or is it far worse? I say it is far worse because while bridges hold cars and school hold students and supermarkets hold shoppers, the Temple holds.God the Holy Spirit!
What are we doing when we speak evil of one another? We are scrawling ugly words on the very thing that holds the Holy Spirit.
Since the Holy Spirit indwells, not only each of us as Christians, but all of us as the Church, then grieving Him by our ugly words or attitudes or actions hurts the whole Body, and no one more than you.
The third unity is-
What is the believer's hope? Most people say it is 'Dying and going to heaven'. I say it isn't. As dear as it is to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, this is a baby step only. The big step is the Resurrection of the body and what goes with it, the Renewing of the whole world.
You can read about this magnificent work of God in the last two chapters of Revelation. Suffice it to say, we will have bodies and minds and souls rid of all sin and weakness and raised to an honor similar to Christ's! And we will live on this earth, but the earth as it should have been, not what it has been. Near the end of this wonderful story, John sees God's People seeing His Face and having His name written on their foreheads.
This hope is not like playing the lottery, where your chances of winning are next to nothing. Our hope is a sure hope-no one, the Bible says-who puts their hope in Him will be put to shame! No one! Including that disappointing man you live with! Including the woman at church you'd rather not talk to!
Tell me please: How can you look at me, knowing I have this hope, and that some day, I will see God face-to-face, and be approved of.and then despise me or say I'm worthless? Or, how can I do this to you? It is not possible to remember our common hope, and not live together with mutual respect and love.
The most important thing we have in common is at the heart of the list-
This is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our common Savior and Lord. If He is our common Savior, it means you are as loved as I am, and when you confess your sins, they are as forgiven as mine. If this is true, how can I mistreat you or look down on you? If he is our common Lord, it means I have to leave your conscience to Him, and not supplement His Word with my own likes or dislikes.
As long as I remember He loves you and let you live your life His way, where's the tension going to come from? How can squabbles not end with apologies, pardons, and a good laugh or cry?
As if having an equal share in Christ were not enough, Paul adds, we also have-
The word, 'faith' can be looked at as either 'believing' or 'the thing believed'. Both are true of Christians; we all believe and we all believe the same thing. In context, the second meaning is what Paul is getting at.
Though we differ on some details, we agree on all the major issues. Maybe we don't see eye-to-eye on Church Government or the End Times or whether we should have deaconesses or not, but with one voice and one heart, the Whole Church has recited-
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.and in His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died.on the third day He rose again.I believe in the Holy Spirit.and so on.
How can we fall out with people who believe all these things as firmly as we do because they don't believe in homeschooling?
The next thing that unites us is-
I have a book at home by the 18th Century Baptist, Abraham Booth. Defending the Baptist views on the mode of baptism, the subjects, meaning, and so forth, he uses this as a proof text, There is one baptism, and he adds, it is by immersion, of believers only, and to symbolize their union with Christ.
I agree with everything he says, except for the verse he used to prove it. What Paul says here has nothing to do with the amount of water used for baptism.
In another book, Martyn Lloyd-Jones also dismisses Abraham Booth, but instead of saying, 'No baptism is by sprinkling to symbolize washing and includes both believers and their children', he says the baptism Paul speaks of here is the Baptism of the Spirit.
If this is true, I don't see how one baptism differs from one Spirit, and, as far as I know, 'baptism' always means 'water baptism' unless it is specified otherwise.
So, what does it mean? Very simply, it means, 'You've all been baptized'. Which is the visible sign of being a member of God's People. Well, he says, if you say you belong to the Community of God, why don't you act like it?
Baptism obliges us to live, no longer for ourselves, but for Christ and His Church-
Buried with Him in Baptism,
You are raised to walk with Him
In newness of life.
ONE GOD AND FATHER
Paul rounds off the list by saying, we have-
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
We have one God who is also our Father. This means, we are His family, subject to His rule, and we must show His character to each other and to the world. We do this by living in peace and humility, and most of all, in love for one another.
We can do this because our God and Father is not only above us, but also working through us, and in us all.
What would you think of me if I told you I'm leaving my wife because 'we have nothing in common'? You'd say-nothing in common! You're both Christians, members of the same church, you've lived together for more than twenty years, liked the same books, laughed at the same jokes; you have three children, a home, a youth together and now a middle-age too!!!
And I replied, 'Yeah, but.
I say tomato and she says tomato,
I say potato and she says potato.
You'd say I was mad! How can a difference in pronouncing a couple of words compare to all we've got in common? It doesn't.
And neither do the petty things that divide the People of God. No, we don't agree on everything, but what we agree on is what matters most, for now and forever. Remember this the next time you're tempted to think evil thoughts, or say bad words about them. When you do this, you'll be doing what the Lord wants you to do-
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
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